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An Unimaginable Loss

January 29, 2020 2:49 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

This letter originally appeared in our "This Month in NYS Museums" newsletter sent on 1/29/2020. For the latest information about the Museum of Chinese in America please visit:

In his 2020 book, The Storytelling Animal, scientist Jonathan Gottschall proposed that human beings are natural storytellers; that we love stories so much we incorporate and use objects, artifacts, ephemera, and out natural world to tell stories about ourselves and our cultures to make them relatable to other humans.

Imagine dedicating forty years of your life to collecting, preserving, and exhibiting the stories of your family, your neighbors, and your community, and waking up one morning to learn that all you collected to tell those stories was gone.

Last week’s fire in a brick building at 70 Mulberry Street in New York City has devastated the Chinese community in New York and across our country. They did not only lose their community center, they lost their stories embodied in the collections of The Museum of Chinese in America.

The museum staff may be able to gain access through first responders to part of what may remain of the collections later today (January 29). Although they believe that most of the collection did not burn, the rescue, restoration, and conservation of the collection requires assistance and funding beyond the current means of the museum. Imagine the damage caused by 12 hours of water pouring from fire hoses onto rare books, archival materials, precious textiles, and ephemera and the expense of rescue and restoration. 

We have little control over disasters like floods and fires, but there are things we can do as museum professionals to take precautions with this unimaginable loss in mind.Call your local first responders, invite them to your museum, show them where you store your collections, share your stories with them so that if the water rises, or a fire starts, they are better prepared to help in an emergency.

Donate to the rescue efforts at MOCA. Every donation is significant, no matter

the amount. 

Sign up and volunteer to share your professional expertise with MOCA staff.

We will do our best to share the news of the recovery and preservation efforts in the weeks to come. Please help however you can. 

Listen to NPR’s “All Things Considered” interview with Nancy Yao Maasback, MOCA President What The Museum of Chinese In America Lost In A Fire

From the NY Times: 85,000 Pieces From Beloved Chinatown Museum Likely Destroyed in Fire

From the Gothamist: Archive Recovery To Begin At Museum Of Chinese in America Days After Devastating Fire

From the New Yorker: What We Lost in the Museum of Chinese in America Fire

The Museum Association of New York helps shape a better future for museums and museum professionals by uplifting best practices and building organizational capacity through advocacy, training, and networking opportunities.

Museum Association of New York is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization. 

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